I stole this image from Buddy Huffaker, Director of the Aldo Leopold Foundation. I stole this caption too, “Estella Leopold doing owl call in person at the Building a Land Ethic Conference and with pet squirrel in the photo behind!”

“Getting up too early is a vice habitual in horned owls, stars, geese, and freight trains. Some hunters acquire it from geese, and some coffee pots from hunters.” I read Aldo Leopold’s words from his essay “Too Early” from the month of October in the Sand County Almanac. Stumbled upon by surprise, my eyes danced along these lines while a smirk grew at the corner of my mouth. I was settled down at my campsite, a crackling fire in the pit, after my first day at the Building a Land Ethic Summer Conference in Baraboo, Wisconsin. I was tired and ready for bed, but I had already set an alarm for 3am in order to take advantage of my rare situation. I was camping, on a lake, on a weeknight, in the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. Hence my response to an essay so aptly titled.

I woke with a start at the un-comforting chime of an electronic alarm, shaken but excited. As I was already dressed, I only had to grab a jacket and my binoculars and head to the lake shore. Walking to the edge of the water, I heard two feisty barred owls talking over one-another. Mysterious splashes in the water beyond sent ripples and waves through my imagination. I lay on my back and noted the time, 03:15. I counted shooting stars like jumping sheep and when my eyes became heavy and clouds started to turn the sky from a turkey-feather blue-black to Pidgeon grey, I took another look at my watch. Fifteen meteor tails in as many minutes. Time to crawl back into my tent.

I rose with the bright sunlight entering my tent, took a calm and lengthy breakfast, and headed out to the hiking trails. The conference sessions didn’t begin until 1pm and I had to take advantage of this freedom. I walked through long and narrow pine corridors and took some time to sit and sketch, working on my sense of perspective, translating deep forests and tall canopies onto a flat piece of white paper. I reflected on the week to come. My expectations were very high for this conference and I was not left disappointed.

I gained a great deal of inspiration and energy from the people around me. A woman from Turkey had come to talk about how she brought the idea of Land Ethic to a new country, translating the Leopold’s famous work into her native language. I met a bee keeper from New Mexico who works with fellow grad students on conservation projects around the Albuquerque area.  I met Leopold’s daughter, Estella Jr. and learned all about the man, the farm, and the shack. (To be honest, I caught myself nerding out too hard at her descriptions and photos of the shack and farm and her dad and family. It was a little embarrassing.)

The highlight for me was on a very personal level. Over the past year or so, a slow struggle has been growing in me. Inundated with jargon and knee-jerk headlines, I have been overwhelmed by issues of race, diversity, privilege and advantage, poverty and prejudice. The spark lit when I saw John C. Robinson, author of Birding for Everyone; speak at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center this past winter. Mr. Robinson is a conservationist, educator, bird-watcher, and he is black. I have always had an inclusive attitude towards all people. I can be friends with anyone, everyone is welcome to come out and enjoy the Watershed Center, and I would like to think that I would never discriminate against someone knowingly. However, a statement that Mr. Robinson made caused me to check myself and become humbled. My style of inclusion was very passive. He said that he had met scores of black and brown men and women who were in awe of how he ever got into the outdoors and over and over he heard the same thing; people of color did not feel invited to participate in what they saw as a primarily white activity.

Along with statements like, “We need to get our message to more people,” and the like, I always hear that there is a serious lack of diversity in outdoor activities and the world of conservation when I am at any sort of environmental education conference. However, solutions seem few. I don’t think I have any sort of answer yet, but I did receive some inspiration. The second to last session I went to on Saturday morning, the last day of the conference, I saw a presentation on a program in Dubuque, Iowa called Future Talk (Check it our, it is awesome). This program seeks out poor and minority teenagers in underprivileged neighborhoods and offers them a work stipend for spending the summer doing ecological restoration. Along with the habitat work, they commit a day each week to community service and they also work through the Leopold Education Project, engaging in reflective and thoughtful activities. This program was introduced by the directors before two students, graduates of the program, spoke about what impact it had on them. Half the room was in tears. For many of these students, school is low on the priority list behind finding a job and dealing with a myriad of challenges at home. Ideas of outdoor conservation and stewardship, much less recreation, don’t even enter their minds. These kids were not only welcomed into the work of conservation, but they were sought out and rewarded for it.

Inclusion means invitation. Inclusion must be active. The first session of the conference dealt with inclusion and it was then that these ideas began the process of solidification which was punctuated by the students from Iowa discussing their experiences. I don’t know much yet and at this time, I believe the ideas have only reached a gelatin consistency. I don’t know how the program in Iowa can impact programs at the Watershed Center, and I don’t know how exactly we will be able to include, or rather, invite those people who do not see themselves represented in the world of the wonderful out-of-doors. However, as surely as these ideas came in the first place, and as surely as the land ethic continues to evolve in the minds of the Thinking Community (paraphrased from Leopold), I have good faith that the ideas and opportunities to carry them out will present themselves in due time as long as we are open to receive them, as long as we wake early enough to see the stars.

Rob Hunt, Watershed Center Coordinator

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.